Knitters are supposed to check their gauge before starting a project. That means knitting a little swatch, counting the stitches per inch, and seeing if the result matches up with the pattern requirements. If so, great. If not, it’s necessary to pick a different needle size (or yarn) and to then try again to to get gauge.
Some of us, though, have an aversion to gauge. We are too excited to cast on, too pumped up about actually starting to complete this small prep step. And yes, this is why the baby pants I knitted last week, instead of being sized for 3-9 months, will probably fit a 12- to 18-month old. Oops.
This is also why my daughter’s Christmas stocking, which I gave to her last year, is way bigger than a standard stocking. I worked diligently on it for months, being a novice to any kind of colorwork. The size–last year–was kind of funny. It was almost as tall as she was.
This holiday season, the stocking’s excessive length seems rather daunting. Will my kiddo ever know the joy of finding her stocking filled to the top on Christmas morning? (Unless someone stuffs a few rolls of toilet paper in the bottom, probably not.) But hey, a lot of love went into its creation, and that’s what counts, right?
Doing a proper gauge swatch is sort of like outlining your novel. You work out the problems until the rough shape of the thing seems intact and worthy of your time. Then you begin writing, knowing (at least vaguely) where you’re going, rather than simply hoping everything will turn out OK. Pantsing is much more like casting on without making that gauge swatch–and perhaps this explains why I was an avid pantser until last year. (Prep work? Nah, let’s just get started and see how it turns out!)
In any case, with my historical novel LOST NOTES, I made an outline and followed it faithfully in 2011. Unfortunately, my gauge was off. It took 80,000 words for my protagonist Henri to end up where I thought he’d be at the end of the first third of the book. As he embroidered his own adventures and connections around the scaffolding I created for him, he didn’t change enough. Which gives him, and this first draft, a flatness that I didn’t anticipate.
If Henri had ended up at this place in his character development 20,000 or 30,000 words into the novel, as I originally outlined, that would have worked fine. But the story grew bigger, much like my daughter’s stocking, and I didn’t stop to readjust. I just kept knitting. I mean writing.
But that’s why this is a first draft. And why I decided to abandon my push for an ending to revise. The work is slow right now. And frustrating. But the story that emerged from my outline over the past year is one worth telling. So I’m going to figure out how to do that, starting with revising the very first chapters.
On Sunday morning, when my daughter wakes up to investigate her giant stocking, I hope she pauses to admire Santa’s mohair beard, and Rudolph’s shiny beaded nose, before reaching her hand inside for a gift.
Merry Christmas to all.